Why concern myself with human rights abuses in far away places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Why make connections between myself and the behavior of a long-ago king, the Belgium’s colonial policies or missionaries’ behavior when, although I personally am outraged by their behaviors, none of these people were my family members?
Why think too much about the fact that materials for my cell phone and wedding ring may have involved injustice and ill treatment of others half way around the globe? For me, my cell keeps me connected to people I care about and my wedding ring is a symbol of a life-long love.
I have no interest in collapsing in shame and despair. That is a dead-end street that feels lousy and helps no one.
Yet, I am no longer willing to keep global horrors at arms length, grateful that since I don’t approve I can wash my hands of any connection to things done by other humans, national and transnational corporations who produce the goods I buy, or “my people” (which includes people who share my Euro-American roots, white skin, Christianity or wealth).
Distancing myself from other’s behavior makes it too easy for me to forget the deep historical roots of today’s world events and the fact that I enjoy the benefits of things grown and produced under horrifying conditions.
Maintaining that distance requires that I go back to sleep. That isn’t an option for me anymore.
However I can’t, nor should I, shoulder the responsibility for all of these actions. Nevertheless, I can stop and grieve. Weep for violence and injustice—for both victims and perpetrators. Let my heart break open for those who suffered and continue to suffer far outside my neighborhood.
My personal grief and the world’s grief meet in my heart. That is where I experience the truth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”1
No defensiveness is needed. Only seeing. Grieving. Not getting stuck there, but also not bypassing my need to wail about tragic aspects of human behavior.
Fear is fanned on every street corner and news show. Despair for the enormity of the environmental destruction and human inequity feels like it could easily undermine our capacity to cope with daily life.
The only path I know of that moves toward transformation, runs right through the middle of grief. “To let ourselves feel anguish and disorientation as we open our awareness to global suffering is part of our spiritual ripening. … Out of darkness, the new is born.”2
Against all logic, this path leads me to joy and gratitude. Standing solidly in the center of both grief and joy, I find clarity about my place in the global world. I am prompted to continue to ask myself, “What’s next? What is my next step to further align my behavior with my values?” Not from a place of despair, shame or over-responsibility but from a solid knowing of the interconnectedness of us all.
Paradox again. I always return here. The more I can learn to hold grief and joy, the greater my capacity to live life fully in ways that serve us all.
1. Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
2. Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown. Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World (British Columbia: New Society Publishers, 1998) Pg 45